More than 70 years ago, two brothers from Smith County served their country honorably in World War II. They always knew what they were fighting to defend, but they got a chance to see the great symbols of American freedom in person Wednesday for the first time.
Ed Martin is now 93 years old, and his baby brother, John Martin, is 91. Their bond isn't just blood - it is also as brothers in arms during World War II.
They are part of a group of 90 veterans who received a free trip to visit the National World War II Memorial built in their honor and other memorials in the nation's capital.
The local veterans and their guardians flew out of Nashville International Airport on the trip coordinated by Music City Honor Flight, a Nashville nonprofit established to honor Tennessee's World War II veterans.
The front porch view of rural Smith County has always been the life the Martin brothers lived - interrupted only once in 1942 by official U.S. Mail.
"'Greetings,' they called it. And it said, 'Having submitted yourself for examination we find you fit for war,' so come on down," said John Martin, who was 19 years old at the time of his enlistment.
John Martin fought in Europe, while Ed Martin fought in the Pacific. The two still hold onto handwritten letters they once wrote home to their anxious mother.
"Do not worry about me, I think I'll get along alright," Ed Martin said, reading one letter.
Neither is quick to talk the specifics of war, but the medals on the mantle - including a Purple Heart - speak for them.
"I think it was the greatest generation - not only the guys who went to war, but the people at home, who went to work in the factories. They went out to win the war and didn't mess around about it," Ed Martin said.
Seventy years later, the boys, now in their 90s, are excited about the Honor Flight and the many firsts as they trek to DC.
"It's No. 1 for me going to Washington and No. 1 for me being on that big of an airplane. All my traveling was by ship," John Martin said.
"I want to see the changing of the guard [at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier]. They say that's pretty nice," Ed Martin said.
They will see the monuments to the American ideals they once fought to defend as they hope history is never repeated.
"I tell people I wouldn't take a million dollars for the experience. I don't think I'd take a million dollars to do it again," John Martin said.
The Martin brothers today live just a few miles apart along the Smith and Trousdale county lines.
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